The Government has given local councils and regional health chiefs broad new powers to implement Covid-safety measures in their areas if the NHS becomes overburdened this winter.While the powers do not allow England’s 153 local authorities to fully lock down their areas, they do provide Covid-specific powers to “respond to serious and imminent threats to public health.”The measures include enforcing mask wearing and social distancing in public spaces, buildings, and transportation, as well as allowing local governments to close individual businesses or events.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed to me that the decision to give local governments their own powers to use was made to help prevent NHS services from being overburdened.“Local authorities will retain the power to introduce requirements or restrictions on individual premises, events, or outdoor places if there is a serious and imminent threat to public health posed by Covid-19,” a DHSC spokeswoman said.
“These powers cannot be used to impose restrictions on all premises in an area, and it is recommended that local governments consult with public health directors before making such decisions.”The government unveiled its Winter Plan last week, with Plan A relying on booster vaccines and jabs for 12- to 15-year-olds to reduce Covid cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Mask-wearing, social distancing, and work-from-home policies will be implemented only under Plan B. The director of public health (DPH) in one of the pandemic’s hardest hit areas claimed Plan A ignored advice from the government’s own scientific modellers on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M).“The winter plan does not appear to have taken into account the advice from SPI-M, for example, that ‘there is a clear consensus that continued high levels of homeworking has played a very important role in preventing sustained epidemic growth in recent months,” said Professor Dominic Harrison, DPH for Blackburn with Darwen Council.
A significant decrease in homeworking in the coming months is very likely to result in an increase in hospital admissions.’“Keeping some control measures in place in Plan A may effectively postpone or avoid having to take harsher measures earlier in the winter.” I believe we should now follow a work-from-home policy if at all possible.”Professor Harrison added that the key indicator of whether a return to some form of Covid-safety measure would be “the hospitals admissions doubling rate or continued staff absences in essential Covid services.
“While Professor Harrison acknowledged that some minor Covid measures may be required, he added that he did not expect national or regional lockdowns because “there is no local or national appetite for this.”According to the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics, the West Midlands and the North East of England are most at risk of reverting to Covid-restrictions, with both areas experiencing higher hospital admissions than this time last year, when winter cases spiked shortly after schoolchildren and university students returned to their studies.
Following a spike in cases over the summer, residents in Devon and Cornwall are already being advised to wear masks and avoid social situations.As of September 14, there were 8,068 people in hospital being treated for Covid, which is more than eight times the number of people in Covid wards at the same time in 2020.Professor Jim McManus, vice president of the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH), said that while he was “cautiously optimistic” that the worst of the pandemic had passed, the winter could bring new problems.
“There will be significant challenges to public health in the coming months,” he added, citing Covid-19, the return of seasonal viruses, and service backlogs.
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